Friday, 18 April 2014

Learning to love kerela (bitter melon)

Kerela, also called 'bitter melon'

Kerela is an odd looking vegetable that is easily bypassed at the grocers.  It looks half way between a dead rodent and a bumpty green fish. But it’s one of those vegetables that have near miracle claims in the health department, so I am determined to learn to love it.  Like olives, it is an acquired taste.

The first time I made it I followed a stuffed kerela recipe, which was exceedingly labour intensive, and then too strong to eat.  We scraped out the stuffing and ate that, with the poor kerelas getting tossed out.  There’s a reason for kerela also being known as ‘bitter’ melon.  At a certain large grocery chain, it’s also known as ‘Indian melon’.

But my stuffing showed me what kerela could become, if handled more cautiously.  This is what I’ve come up with, and it’s actually good to eat.  Maybe in time we’ll develop such a taste for it we can go for the whole, stuffed kerela recipe, but in the meantime, this will be a good bridge for that gap.  For a vegetarian version, double the amount of mushrooms and add diced paneer.  This recipe serves six, and is made in under an hour, excluding soaking time.
Run your thumb down the middle to clean out seeds.

2 kerelas
½ cup coarse salt

1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon fennel seed
10 curry leaves (optional)
1 small red onion
1 pound minced lamb or beef
1 heaping tablespoon dried currants
4 cloves garlic, diced
2 Thai chilies, diced (or to taste)
3 cups finely diced mushrooms, or six if you’re not using meat
1 cup diced paneer  (only if you’re not using meat)
1 tablespoon Kitchen King masala, or a favourite prepared masala
½ teaspoon turmeric powder
salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste 

Salt helps remove the bitterness.
Trim the ends and use a potato peeler to scrape the rubbery knobs and bits of the vegetable.  Mine had been in a plastic bag in the fridge, a bad idea, so they weren’t as fresh as if they’d been stored out in the open.  If yours are super fresh, keep the scrapings.  Once scraped, slice it down the middle, and use your thumb to scrape out the inner seed core.  Discard the seeds and pith.  Dice the kerela and spread out in a colander.  If your kerela is very fresh, add the scrapings as well.  Sprinkle the salt over the kerela, and set aside for one hour.

Heat oil in a large non-stick pan.  Add cumin, fennel and curry leaves and let sizzle.  Add the minced lamb or beef, if you are using it.  Break it up to be sure it’s in small pieces, and browns nicely.  Toss in the currants at this point.  Once the meat is starting to get golden, add the onions and cook till they start to get golden as well.  Next come the mushrooms.  (Add the paneer too if you’re skipping the meat.)  Give them about five minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add the garlic, chilies and masala, along with the turmeric powder.  Stir well and let cook about five minutes, stirring from time to time. 

Rinse the kerela well.  Add to the meat and mushroom mixture.  If it looks dry, add about a quarter cup of water.  Cover, and cook till the mushrooms and kerela are tender, about fifteen minutes.  Taste for seasoning, and add salt and pepper, if necessary.
Rinse kerela well, and don't worry about clinging water.

I served this over a turmeric tinted basmati rice.  Salting the kerela helped to take out some of the bitterness.  If you can handle strong olives, you can handle this dish.  I find the flavour unusual and intriguing.  

Kerela is supposed to be excellent for reducing blood sugar, and is often given to diabetics.  Since adult onset diabetes runs in my family, I want to eat everything I can to counteract that issue, especially if I enjoy the meal!  

Kerela, mushroom, and minced beef over basmati rice
I could get used to this!

Thursday, 10 April 2014

Hot and Spicy Coconut Tofu

Hot and Spicy Coconut Tofu
Colourful enough?

When I say ‘tofu’, my family members tend to stuff their fingers in their ears, and then slip out the door.  But I recently tasted yet another tofu dish at a gathering, and was pleasantly surprised.  I picked up a block of the most solid type I could find, and got creative.

This spicy and creamy dish is easy to make and actually tastes luscious.  If I were to serve tofu to guests, this is what I’d make.  This can be made in the time it takes to cook the rice and it serves four people very generously, nay gluttonously.  While the combination of ‘glutton’ and ‘tofu’ sounds absurd, the coconut gravy allows the oxymoron.  If time isn’t a factor, the tofu can be marinated for 24 hours ahead of time, ensuring the spices permeate every tofu molecule, although it isn’t necessary.

marinate tofu with garlic, chilies, and fresh ginger
Marinate ahead of time or that day!
3 cloves fresh garlic, finely diced
3 Thai chilies, finely diced (or to taste)
1 x 2” ginger root, finely diced
1 block tofu, diced

1 stick cinnamon
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon cumin seed
½ teaspoon mustard seed
12 fresh curry leaves (frozen okay)
1 medium sized red onion, diced  

1/3 cup water
½ cup powdered coconut milk
½ teaspoon salt (or to taste)
15 grates fresh black pepper (or to taste)

1 sweet red pepper, diced
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and cut into manageable pieces

Combine the garlic, chilies, ginger and tofu.  Set aside.  (You can marinate a day early if you desire.) 

The seeds sizzle up so fast!
Pour the oil into a large non-stick pan along with the cinnamon stick.  Turn the heat to high. When the oil seems hot, sprinkle in the cumin seed and mustard.  Within moments the seeds will sizzle, and when the mustard seed looks greyish, add the onion.  Turn the heat down to medium, and cook till the onion starts to become translucent and golden at the edges.  Add the tofu mix. 

Do not stir!  Instead, just leave the tofu to brown on the side it landed on.  After about five minutes, use a spatula to gently turn the tofu pieces over, and mix things up a bit.  When those sides get golden, turn over again, and let get golden.  (Each side takes about three minutes.)  Add water, coconut milk powder and red pepper.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Use a large pan to get tofu golden on all sides.

Gently stir to mix coconut and water into a creamy gravy.  Don’t worry about those lumps, as they’ll dissolve quickly.  When that’s heated through and the red pepper is almost tender (in a couple of minutes) add the asparagus and cook another minute or two till that’s also tender.  Then you can serve the creamy, spicy tofu over basmati rice.  If you like your gravy thicker, sprinkle in a bit more coconut milk powder.  This stuff is miraculous! 

I got the idea for this tofu dish from my recent pollock recipe.  Instead of fish, which might not be an environmentally thoughtful choice, this vegan meal is delicious yet responsible, especially if you’re hankering for something luxurious and elegant to serve to guests.  Earth Day is coming up soon, what will you be eating that’s good for the planet?  

Hot and Spicy Coconut Tofu
Actually I made my recipe for saffron basmati rice, but used turmeric, since it was just 'us'.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Super Easy Home Made 2 Layer Jello

Organic Lemon and Cream Layered Jello, Homemade!

Back in the 60s, layered Jello was a big deal.  My mother bought the boxes of artificial colour, sugar, artificial flavours and gelatin, and it was a thrill, especially when she mastered the art of the Striped Jello.  For my family dinner, celebrating what would have been her hundredth birthday, I did my best to pull off a home made, natural food version.

After hunting around on Google, I could only come up with mixes involving not only the boxes of chemicals, but advice to mix them with either whipped edible petroleum product, or better, yet, powdered coffee ‘whitener’.  So relying on memory as best as I could for the striping procedure, I went ahead and trusted that my cooking angels would guide my hand.  They did.

This is so simple, it’s silly!

This recipe serves eight to ten, is prepared in ten minutes, but has to set for at least four hours. 

3 tablespoons vanilla sugar
Vanilla extract darkened juice, so I added colour.
2 packets gelatin powder, (two tablespoons gelatin powder)
4 cups boiling water
2 organic lemons, carefully washed, zested and juiced
1 teaspoon vanilla (optional)
3 tablespoons honey (or to taste)
1 drop yellow food colouring (so optional!)
½ teaspoon orange flower water (optional)
2 cups vanilla icecream 

In a big container, sprinkle sugar and gelatin powder.  I went with vanilla sugar, despite my usual raw Indian sugar, because I wanted to keep a pale yellow colour.  Pour the boiling water over the sugar and gelatin powder, stir and let dissolve. 

Add lemon juice and zest, and honey.  Taste for sweetness and lemon flavour.  It needs to taste right to you now, so add more honey if needed.  

At this point I also added vanilla, immediately darkening my mix, my angel howling, ‘you might as well have used the raw Indian sugar!’  True, and then I could have added the vanilla, and since the mix was already darkish, it wouldn’t have shocked me.  But I was shocked, so, as my mom would have done, I dug around in the cupboard for yellow food colouring, and restored the colour.  (Countertops needed bleaching later…)

Because I love all flavours floral, I added the orange blossom water, but this is also an optional step.  Ice-cream was stirred in next.  Make sure the ice-cream fully melts into the warm water, before you set it into the fridge to chill.  If I owned a jello mold, I would have poured the mix into that mold, which I’d have waiting in the fridge.  Instead, I poured it into a big pretty glass bowl, but as I was moving the bowl into the fridge, it waved around a bit and splattered the bowl.  Next time, I’ll put the bowl in the fridge first, and pour oh so carefully.

Next steps involve stirring in ice-cream.
Anyway, the work was done!  The ice-cream molecules swim up to the surface, leaving a bottom layer of clear lemon jelly, and a thick and creamy layer of lemony deliciousness.

My faintest memories of making this at the age of thirteen involved ice-cream that perfectly separated into layers, and the memories were right. 

Although a few family members griped and grouched about being served Jello for dessert, they all grabbed at the Home Made Dad’sCookies served with the layered jello, so I got away with it.  I find the taste of homemade jello done with organic lemons, vanilla and honey intensely delicious.  It’s fresh, light and sweetly fragrant.  To me, it’s a perfect end to a heavy meal!

Super Easy Organic Lemon and Cream Two Layered Jello, homemade!
How easy is that?

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Home Made Dad’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

Home Made Dad's Chocolate Chip Cookies

As much as I love the commercial version of these, I was in a mood to cook up a tribute to my own parents tonight for a big family party.  So I thought I’d whump these up, along with a home-made layered jello similar to the boxed versions my mother used to create.  These cookies are healthier, of course, made with whole wheat and no chemicals, and not quite as flat and hard as the store bought version.  But well worth making, nevertheless. 

This recipe makes about three dozen cookies, and takes about forty minutes by the time you’re munching on nice, warm cookies and the house is redolent with the scent of baking.  Preheat oven to 375 F.

½ cup butter
½ cup solid (chilled) coconut oil
2 cups jaggery (aka raw Indian sugar, or Punjabi Shakkar)  Use brown sugar, if you must.
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla

1 ½ cup unsweetened dried coconut
2 cups unprocessed oats
2 cups whole wheat flour
¾ teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup dark chocolate chips

Cream butter and oil together.  Add the jaggery, or brown sugar.  Keep beating till fluffy.  Add eggs and vanilla.  Continue beating on high. 

Coconut and oats should be ground up a bit first.
Dad’s cookies have a certain texture I wanted to replicate, so I put the coconut and oats into the blender, and whizzed for a few moments.  I wanted them fairly mealy, so they’d blend into the cookie.  Put the blended coconut and oats into a large bowl, along with the flour, salt, soda and cinnamon.  Stir to combine, then put mixer onto slow, and add the dry mix a little at a time.  You’ll need to scrape the sides of the bowl with a spatula from time to time.  When they’re pretty much mixed in, add the chocolate chips and mix some more.  These don’t have to be perfectly distributed yet.  The dough will be fairly stiff.

Use your hands to form little balls of dough, less than an inch across.  Place them about two inches away from each other on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Once you’ve got two sheets of dough balls, check for even chocolate chip distribution. Pick out and push in where needed.  Greedy guts me always leaves extra chips in a few cookies for you know who.  Once the sheets are loaded with the dough balls, use a fork to flatten them a bit.  
Slightly flatten with a fork.

Bake at 375 F for about ten minutes. Remove from sheets and cool on racks. (I used four sheets, so I was prepared to fling the next set into the oven when the first set came out.)  

Let cool so you don’t scald yourself.  Then indulge.  I served these with my own version of my mother’s layered jello, which I’ll write about tomorrow.  Stay tuned.  

My brother will be returning to Vancouver tomorrow with a big bag of these Dad’s cookies. I hope he enjoys!

Home Made Dad's Chocolate Chip Cookies
Great with a glass of milk, too!

Friday, 28 March 2014

Whole Wheat Raisin Bread

Whole Wheat Raisin Bread

Seduced by the idea of raisin bread toast, we purchased a regular loaf of raisin bread at the grocery store.  The scent of cinnamon enticed, but the taste?  Not so much.  Bland and mushy, it was.  Not worth the calories, for sure.

Remembering my favourite all time raisin bread from Lorabies’s bakery in Flushing, Queens, I dug out my old New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook.  I knew I could at least come up with a bread that’s got some texture, taste and worthy ingredients.  While Lorabie’s raisin bread was a nearly black pumpernickel, and I had no such flour on hand, I had some amaranth, and got creative.  The amaranth grains add tiny crunches here and there, but you can leave it out if you prefer a smoother bread.  

This recipe makes two loaves, and it involves at least four hours in the kitchen, although you don’t have to be involved the entire time.

Soak 1 cup raisins in a ½ cup boiled water for thirty minutes.
Proof Yeast with Warm Water, never hot!
Liquids need to be warm to wake up yeast, never hot!

¾ cup milk, scalded
1/3 cup butter
3 tablespoons jaggery (aka raw Indian sugar, Punjabi Shakkar)
4 teaspoons sea salt
1/3 cup molasses, reserve a teaspoon

1 cup lukewarm water
1 packet dry active yeast

6 cups whole wheat flour
½ cup dried milk powder
1 tablespoon cinnamon powder
1/8 cup amaranth grains (optional)

butter for greasing proofing bowl, and bread pans

In a large microwave proof bowl, scald the milk.  Add the butter, jaggery and salt.  Reserving one teaspoon, pour in the molasses.  Drain the water from the raisins, and add that water as well.  Stir and leave it to cool down somewhat.  (My kitchen was cold, so it cooled off faster than the butter could melt.)

In a small bowl, mix the teaspoon of molasses, lukewarm water and dried yeast.  Set aside to wake up the yeast, which takes about ten minutes.Turn oven on, but let it heat to just under 100 F.  Turn off, but turn on the oven light to keep a steady warm temperature.

Begin with stirring paddle.
Dough is shiny, elastic and not sticky when right.
In a mixer, add two cups of flour.  Pour in the warm milk mixture, then the lukewarm yeast mixture.  Set the mixer to stir for at least three minutes.  You may need to scrape the sides of the bowl from time to time.  Turn off the mixer, and add another two cups of flour, then the dried milk powder.  Turn back onto stir.  Add another cup of flour, along with the cinnamon powder, amaranth and raisins.  At this point take off the stirring paddle and replace with a dough hook.  Turn machine back on and slowly add the next cup of flour, but be cautious.  Some flours are drier than others, so add enough flour to take the stickiness out of the dough.  When it starts to look shiny and feel elastic, it’s good.  If you lose the shine, you can add a tiny bit of water, and put the mixer back on, but have flour on hand in case you add too much water.  The final amount of flour and liquid depends on your humidity levels.  Let the machine knead the dough for about eight minutes. 

Use different pans for varied shapes.
Butter a large proofing bowl.  Remove the dough from the mixing bowl, and shape it into a ball in the proofing bowl.  Rub it around so the entire surface of the ball is lightly coated with butter.  Place a clean tea towel over the bowl, and an old, but thick tea towel on the oven rack.  Place the covered bowl over the thick tea towel in the oven.  (You don’t want the bowl to touch a hot surface, so be sure the oven is just nicely warm.)  Let proof till doubled in size, about an hour.

Remove from oven.  Punch down, and divide dough into two balls.  Butter bread pans generously.  Put one ball in each pan.  Shape to fit pan.  Cover with tea towel, and put back into warm oven. 

Let proof for another hour.  Dough should rise up to look like loaves during this time.  Remove all dough, pans and towels from the oven.  Preheat to 400 F.  Put bread pans back in oven, and bake 25 to 30 minutes.  Bread will sound hollow when knocked.  Let rest a few minutes, then turn out onto cooling racks.

After cooling, slice and enjoy.  

Never mind dinner tonight, we just had this bread with butter and cheese.  Now I can’t wait for tomorrow morning, when it’s time for toast! 

Whole Wheat Raisin Bread  still warm and melting the butter!
Yum.  Who needs anything more?